City officials are in negotiations with officials from Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp. over $4 million in state money that was supposed to go toward improvements to the city’s wastewater treatment plant, but instead went directly to the company.
Beech-Nut, a leader in the baby foods industry producing 150 all natural products, announced in May it would be building a new 600,000-square-foot facility in the Florida Business Park. The company plans to hook the new facility into the city’s water and wastewater system.
Montgomery County Economic Development and Planning Director Ken Rose said Beech-Nut will be the largest user of the city’s water and wastewater treatment plant. According to a study conducted by Schenectady-based John McDonald Engineering, Beech-Nut will increase the solids handled at the wastewater treatment plant by more than 50 percent.
“There is necessary water and wastewater improvements that are needed with regards to the city’s system in order to accommodate the Beech-Nut project,” Rose said. “Allocation of financial resources to take care of those improvements is the issue we’re still working with now.”
Beech-Nut spokesman Earl Wells said the company is not willing to pay for necessary improvements to the city’s wastewater treatment plant because Beech-Nut anticipates the city will be generating $1.4 million in revenue annually once the company hooks up to the city’s system.
Wells said Beech-Nut intends to retain the 356 existing jobs currently at the Canajoharie plant and create an additional 135 jobs. He said the facility will be Beech-Nut headquarters and will be the North American headquarters for Beech-Nut’s parent company, the Switzerland-based Hero Group.
“This facility is going to put the town of Florida and Montgomery County on the international map,” Wells said.
Beech-Nut plans to invest $124 million of private sector money into the site at the Florida Business Park and has received over $100 million in state incentives including grants and tax breaks.
According to Stefanie Zakowicz, vice president of communications for Empire State Development, the $4 million was part of a member item from then Assemblyman Paul Tonko, at the request of the Montgomery County Industrial Development Agency. The county was going to use the money to upgrade the city’s wastewater treatment plant, but Zakowicz said the $4 million was rolled into Beech-Nut’s overall incentive package from the state.
Tom Lynch, who served as Tonko’s chief of staff and legislative director while he was an assemblyman, said Tonko secured $3 million and it was always supposed to be part of Beech-Nut’s incentive package.
Beech-Nut officials have been meeting with city and Montgomery County officials for months, most recently last week, to resolve the issue. Wells said Beech-Nut needs to have the city’s wastewater treatment plant ready once the new facility is operational.
“If this issue isn’t resolved, it could jeopardize the entire project,” Wells said. “Everyone needs to work together to get this done.”
Mayor Ann Thane said while the city does have to improve its 1970s-era wastewater treatment plant, the promise of a new Beech-Nut facility has accelerated the city’s plans. If the company weren’t coming, the city would be looking at longer-range solutions to the plant’s problems, Thane said.
“We hope that [Beech-Nut] would be the good neighbor they claim to be by partnering with us in this venture,” Thane said. “They have to realize that they are coming into a struggling upstate economy.”
Rose said county officials have sent letters to state representatives asking them to address the “shortcomings of the proposal.”
Thane said city government has to put its needs and the needs of its residents first. She said while Beech-Nut is promising additional jobs, it isn’t clear whether those jobs will benefit city residents.
“We absolutely want them to come.” Thane said. “But if they don’t, there are other entities that will.”
Rose said Beech-Nut is continuing with the process of acquiring the necessary permits and approvals to break ground this spring.
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Categories: Schenectady County